Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson, Adam Putnam top Orlando’s Political Salsa

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were the top choices at Orlando’s Political Salsa hobnob for races for Senate and Florida Governor.

With more than 400 votes, Nelson topped Republican Gov. Rick Scott 52 percent to 43 percent with Rocky De La Fuente taking the rest during the Hispanic-oriented but mostly mixed-ethnic event Thursday night.  Organizers released results over the weekend.

Putnam won a tight contest over Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 16-person straw poll for Governor, with Putnam grabbing 25 percent of the votes and Gillum 23. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis finished third with 15 percent; Democratic former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, 13 percent; Democratic former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, 11 percent; Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King took five percent; and four points for Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene.

In a separate poll taken at Political Salsa held at Acacia, a community center for Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community,  77 percent of the participants said they support Puerto Rico statehood. Only 15 percent chose the option of independence, and 8 percent said none of the above.

Unlike many hobnob straw polls, the Political Salsa straw poll evenly divided favorites between Republicans and Democrats, offering a possible Democratic lean with several upsets.

The primary sponsors of the event were the Suarez Group of Companies and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida.

Republican former Judge Ashley Moody was the pick for Attorney General, with 39 percent, compared to 27 percent for Democratic state Sen. Sean Shaw, 22 percent for Democrat Ryan Torrens, and 12 percent for Republican state Rep. Frank White.

In the race for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring topped Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis 51 to 49 percent.

Democrat Nikki Fried was the top choice for Agriculture Commissioner, taking 30 percent, compared with 19 for Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell, 18 for Democrat Roy David Walker, and 17 for state Sen. Denise Grimsley, among the leaders.

In congressional races, three Democratic incumbents came out on top and one Democratic challenger took a surprise victory.

Democrat Sanjay Patel outpolled Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey 53 to 47 percent in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which is Brevard County-centered with a piece of eastern Orange County.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy barely topped Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering Seminole and north and central Orange counties. Murphy polled 35, Miller 33. The other three candidates, two Republicans and a Democrat, drew totals in the low teens.

In Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto not only came out on top but his Democratic primary rival, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson finished a distant third. Soto got 51, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky 34, and Grayson 15 points in that district covering Osceola, south Orange and eastern Polk counties.

In Florida’s 10th Congressional District, which covers west Orange County, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings has only an upstart Democratic challenger standing between her and re-election. And that was relatively close in this poll: Demings 61 percent, Wade Darius, 39 percent.

Several surprises came in Florida House races.

Democrat Lee Mangold topped Republican David Smith 53 to 47 percent in House District 28.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon came out on top in House District 29, taking 44 to 40 percent for Democrat Tracey Kagan; Democrat Darryl Block took 16 points.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes topped House District 30, taking 49 to 22 percent against Democrat Brendan Ramirez; 20 percent went to Clark Anderson and 9 points for Joy Goff-Marcil.

Democrat Debra Kaplan led Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, 58 to 42 percent in House District 31.

Democrat Ricky Shirah was the choice in House District 39, topping Republican Josie Tomkow 54-39 percent.

Democrat Barbara Cady topped Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa 54 to 46 in House District 42.

Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski topped House District 44. He drew 38, to 33 for Democratic former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and 29 for Melanie Gold.

Democrat Anna Eskamani edged out a Republican rival the House District 47 contest with 47 percent; 42 percent went for Republican Mikaela Nix and 11 percent for Republican Stockton Reeves.

Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith got 56 percent to Republican Ben Griffin‘s 44 in House District 49.

Democrat Pam Dirschka led the House District 50 contest with 45 percent, while Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia took 40 percent, and Republican George Collins, 15 points.

Republican Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke led in the contest for Orange County Mayor. Clarke grabbed 41 percent, to 35 percent for Sheriff Jerry Demings and 24 percent for businessman Rob Panepinto.

Retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez pulled off a shockingly easy upset in the contest for Orange County Sheriff, topping Orlando Police Chief John Mina 51 to 28, with Democrat Darryl Sheppard finishing third with 21.

In Orange County Commission races, Republican Christina Moore was the top choice in a four-person field for District 2, leading Republican Mark Byrd 35 to 28 percent; Democrat Eric Rollings was the pick in the five-person field for District 3, leading Pete Crotty 36 to 22 percent; Gina Perez-Calhoun and Maribel Gomez Cordero were the top choices in the five-person District 4 race.

For the Seminole County Commission, Katrina Shadix was the choice in District 2, and Amy Lockhart in District 4, with both polling more than 50 percent.

For the Osceola County Commission, Wanda Rentas got 44 percent in District 2, while incumbent Commissioner Viviana Janer took 25 and Janette Martinez 24. Adam Michelin led a tight race for District 4, taking 32 percent versus 26 percent for incumbent Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, Will Fonseca taking 24, and Will Gonzalez Jr., 18 points.

For Ag. Comm. hopeful Roy David Walker, questions abound on bio, finances

Three South Florida Democrats are competing in the race for Agriculture Commissioner, an office dominated for decades by Republicans with ties to the state’s farming industry.

And while attorney Nikki Fried is the clear favorite in the Aug. 28 primary; another Democratic candidate is deserving a closer look — but not in a good way.

Roy David Walker is a 33-year-old former environmental scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A resident Broward County, Walker’s main claim to fame is that he resigned after Republican Gov. Rick Scott banned the use of the words “climate change” in official state communications.

As the cornerstone of his campaign, Walker leans heavily on his background as a “biologist,” which he would use to grow the state’s agricultural industry and “#BringingScienceBack” to Tallahassee.

Through his website boasts several scientific and environmental bona fides, the reality behind Walker’s background — and his campaign — is far from impressive.

The idea that Walker will come to the Florida Cabinet as a trained biologist does not paint a complete picture. While he holds two degrees in environmental policy/management, Walker’s education was, in fact, through the American Public University, a West Virginia-based online-only, for-profit college.

To illustrate the type of education offered by APU — one of the least expensive among online schools — the facility entered a $50 million agreement in 2010 with retail giant Walmart to provide services for its employees, earning a reputation in the industry as “Walmart U.”

And though Walker claims to have held “research positions” at various state and federal conservation agencies, he was not employed by any of them. For example, his role at the state Fish and Wildlife Commission was checking-in duck hunters at a stormwater treatment plant.

Walker also maintains he was a Plant City volunteer firefighter — something the city says is not true.

According to the Palm Beach Post “Know Your Candidates” series, Walker’s most recent job (from 2015-2017) was as an assistant instructor with Florida Master Naturalist Program.

However, his most notable employment — and conspicuously left off his campaign bio — was as “Lead Animal Care Specialist” at Wild Things in Dade City, a notorious roadside zoo with a lengthy history of abuse.

A longtime target of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Wild Things was fined and sued over its handling of animals, particularly tiger cubs — three of which died while being shipped 1,200 miles to avoid an animal-welfare inspection.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported in March 2018, after a “calculated and deliberately deceptive” plot to move tigers from the zoo, a federal judge ruled Wild Things could never possess tigers again.

Despite an apparent affinity for working with tigers — he once listed his email as zootig_4@aol.com — Walker was fired from Wild Things for failing to show up to work.

“They stated that I was a no-call and no-show,” Walker explained.

But it is Walker’s campaign finances in his bid for Agriculture Commissioner that raise the most concern.

Several news outlets, including the Tampa Bay Times, noted many inconsistencies in Walker’s personal finances. In a disclosure document filed with the Florida Division of Elections on June 20, he claims a net worth of more than $138,000 and over $73K in student loans.

Though campaign reports show him as “self-employed,” Walker managed to loan his campaign nearly $160,000. In addition, he filed every campaign finance report late, and was fined thousands of dollars.

This ability to loan (and pay fees) simply does not jive with Walker’s financial past.

In 2010, Walker’s Jeep Wrangler was repossessed after he defaulted on a deal to pay off debt associated with unpaid dues at a Gainesville health club. Nevertheless, he has lately been spotted driving around in luxury cars — previously a BMW, and is now on the campaign trail behind the wheel of a new, and very expensive, Tesla.

Most likely, Walker’s funding source is his partner, an emergency medicine specialist at Broward Health, with whom he shares a $743,000 waterfront home in Wilton Manors — a fact visibly absent in both his campaign bio and financial reporting.

Dana Moss appointed to county judge post in Sarasota County

Dana Moss

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday appointed attorney Dana Moss to an open judgeship in the Sarasota County Court today.

Moss, a 47-year-old former police officer, has been the felony division chief for the Public Defender’s Office in the 12th Judicial Circuit, working for Public Defender Larry Eger. She earned her law degree from Florida Coastal Law School in 2005 and before that got her bachelor’s degree at Penn State University.

She replaces Judge Judy Goldman. But the timing of Goldman’s decision to retire from the bench raised some controversy earlier this year in Sarasota. Goldman submitted her resignation letter in April, right before the candidate qualifying period for election to her seat, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

That allowed Scott to make the appointment on who should replace Goldman, rather than putting the decision out to voters.

Tallahassee attorneys challenging the process of letting the governor make appointments in this type of scenario filed Goldman’s letter of resignation as evidence of rampant abuse of the process.

Of course, that doesn’t speak to Moss herself, who had been among finalists submitted for consideration to Scott by the Judicial Nominating Commission based on her long history in law enforcement and as a criminal defense attorney in the region.

Moss last year had also applied for a county judgeship following Judge Charles Sniffen‘s appointment to the circuit court bench.

Moss was admitted into the Florida Bar in 2006 and remains a member in good standing.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Hustlin’ 45

Rick Wilson, the Tallahassee-based Republican operative whose moonshot to the spotlight accompanied his unwithering criticism of President Donald Trump, came home this week.

His landing spot: The capital city’s Midtown Reader bookstore, to read from and discuss his new best-selling book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”

“This process started a little bit as catharsis,” Wilson told the large crowd. “I started out writing this book in a moment when I was frustrated with my own party for letting this creature take office and with the failures of leadership.”

Rick Wilson speaks to a packed house this week at Tallahassee’s Midtown Reader.

Initially, Wilson planned to take a “fairly academic” approach to write the book, but decided he’d rather “have some fun with it.” While there’s plenty of “Wilson-style humor,” his new work is balanced by “serious thought about the future of the country and the party,” he said.

He read a bit of prose aloud to the audience from a chapter that took umbrage with Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp.” In the segment, Wilson points to a turnover problem and early failures of the administration exacerbated by what he views as the President’s inability to make employment decisions independent from his connections to the private sector.

“Trump’s administration provides all the things you expect: Banality, incompetence, a stunning lack of policy knowledge and a slurry of people dragged from Trump’s business world who couldn’t manage a Waffle House,” Wilson read.

Afterward, he fielded questions – both from Republicans and Democrats – and covered a wide-ranging list of concerns from the audience, giving humorous replies almost always, although they were rooted in truths about the state of American politics.

Prefacing his discussion was news from the previous night that the book would top The New York Times best-sellers list for Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction.

While “blown away” by the reception, Wilson showed a sense of self-awareness of his media niche. A longtime GOP ad man and strategist, he’s staked claim to a unique pedestal from which to criticize a Republican President.

He’s captured an online following that on Twitter is edging toward the 400,000 mark, and noted the book’s success came without a network like “Fox News” promoting it day and night.

“If nothing else, I got hustle,” he confessed.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica, Michael Moline and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

State presses Bill Nelson to back hacking claim – Secretary of State Ken Detzner penned a letter this week to Sen. Nelson asking the longtime Florida lawmaker to substantiate his public comments that Russians had “penetrated” some Florida voting systems ahead of the 2018 midterm election. Nelson told a Tampa Bay Times reporter two weeks ago, “The Russians are in Florida’s election records” but did not provide any more details. Since then, both Gov. Rick Scott and Detzner have publicly sought more information on the alleged hackings. Detzner wrote to U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr asking for additional information before writing personally to Nelson. Scott, who’s attempting to unseat Nelson this fall, said Friday in St. Augustine that Nelson “needs to come clean.” He added, “Did they release classified information? And how did he have access to it? He doesn’t have the right to it; he’s not on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Or did he just completely make it up?”

Former justice challenges six amendments – Six of the eight constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission were challenged this week by retired state Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead. Anstead, who served on the Supreme Court 1994-2009, believes the contested amendments violate voters’ First Amendment rights since each one “bundles independent and unrelated proposals in a single ballot question.” The petition argues that the bundling “requires a voter to vote ‘yes’ for a proposal that the voter opposes in order to vote ‘yes’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter supports, and to vote ‘no’ for a proposal the voter supports in order to vote ‘no’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter opposes.” Amendments 6,7,8,9,10 and 11 are named in the petition. The lawsuit names Secretary of State Detzner as a defendant.

Unemployment lowest since 2007 – At a St. Augustine appearance on Friday, Gov. Scott said the state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3.7 percent, the lowest recorded since April 2007. In a news release announcing the healthy economic indicator, Scott linked the employment level to the number of jobs — 1,595,000 — created since December 2010, one month before he took office. “Our soaring economy has allowed us to make investments in areas that matter to families, like education, transportation and protecting our environment,” Scott said. “That’s why Florida continues to outpace the nation in job growth and is the best state to find a job and raise a family.” According to state records, Florida created over 211,400 new private-sector jobs over the past year. The Sunshine State’s job growth rate has outpaced the nation’s for 75 of the last 76 months, with the outlier coinciding with Hurricane Irma.

State highlights debt reduction – Florida has eliminated more than $7 billion worth of debt, according to the state Division of Bond Finance. The decline, called a “sea change,” was spotlighted during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet this week in Tallahassee. Division of Bond Finance Director Ben Watkins credited Gov. Scott with pursuing an “unprecedented” policy of limited state borrowing, reports Lloyd Dunkelberger for the News Service of Florida. Watkins also highlighted how three major credit ratings groups had doled Florida a ‘triple-A’ rating. “The good news is it recognizes the strength of the state, the management of the state, the financial position and policies of the state, which translates into lower borrowing costs for the state,” Watkins told Scott. “It is, in effect, a validation from the rating agencies that we are doing the right thing.”

Revenue forecast remains steady – State lawmakers can expect to have a little more than $32 billion when they return to Tallahassee to craft the 2019-20 fiscal year budget, according to economists with the Revenue Estimating Conference. The panel met this week and reviewed details of revenue collected from state sales, documentary stamp, beverage, pari-mutuel, insurance premium, severance and corporate income taxes, along with other contributors to the General Revenue Fund. “It’s going to be a very stable picture for the Legislature, with no big changes,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the Office of Economic and Demographic Research and the Legislature’s chief economist.

Scott recognizes entrepreneurs

During one of his last remaining Cabinet meetings, Gov. Scott took the time to acknowledge two promising small business ventures going on in the state.

Jason Kelloway, owner of Social Grounds Coffee Company in Jacksonville, received the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award. A formerly homeless veteran, Kelloway launched the business with the goal of helping veterans get back on their feet. Each purchase goes to helping employ and empower vets.

Rick Scott, Florida Cabinet give props to Jacksonville’s Social Grounds Coffee Company.

“Florida is the most veteran-friendly state in the nation, and it’s great to see veteran-owned companies succeed in Florida,” Scott said. In July, he poured coffee from the Jacksonville shop for troops in Kuwait.

Madison Setliff, a 23-year-old Tallahassee businesswoman, received the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award for her midtown clothing boutique, Sparkle by Madison.

“I am so honored to receive the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award,” Setliff said. “It’s wonderful to be able to not only own my business but also to be able to share my passion for fashion and style with young women in Tallahassee.”

Businesswoman Madison Setliff, 23, was recognized with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award for her midtown clothing boutique, Sparkle by Madison.

Unclaimed treasure hunt

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is marking the start of the school year by reminding Floridians that the state might be holding unclaimed property that they’re entitled to recover.

The state devotes any proceeds from abandoned bank accounts, jewelry, coins, or other valuables to public schools.

Jimmy Patronis helps auction off Florida’s unclaimed treasure.

However, there’s no time limit for claiming such property — the state is obliged to pay legitimate claims.

Patronis said the “Back to School” unclaimed property initiative includes more than 4,600 accounts — including one worth more than $135,000.

Patronis has returned $361 million in unclaimed property since taking office last year.

You can search for your own unclaimed property at www.fltreasurehunt.gov.

Facebook scam alert

Patronis issued a consumer alert against scam artists trying to take advantage of Facebook’s new financial services offerings.

The platform is allowing financial services companies to use its Messenger app to handle credit card transactions, checking accounts and more. Criminals are cloning Facebook accounts for people’s friends and family to steal this sort of personal information.

Jimmy Patronis warns to aware of the latest Facebook scam.

Here’s Patronis’ advice:

— Watch out for subtle anomalies in the names of people who try to contact you. A random space or capitalization might be a tipoff.

— If an account looks fake, don’t accept the message.

— Report and block fake accounts right away.

— Keep up with Facebook’s updates on its efforts to detect senders’ locations and identify fake accounts.

— Notify your financial institution if your account is compromised or you think it’s been.

“There are as many as 13 million active Facebook users in Florida, and anyone can fall victim to this latest scam,” Patronis said. “These are not your friends; they are criminals actively looking to steal your personal information and your identity.”

Instagram of the Week

The cake is not a lie.

A post shared by Rick Wilson (@therickwilson) on

The week in appointments

5th Circuit Court

James R. Baxley, a Lake County Judge, fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Mark A. Nacke. A two-time graduate of the University of Florida, Baxley, 49, previously was a partner at Hatfield and Baxley P.A.

17th Circuit Court

Nickolas Hunter Davis, 37, of Fort Lauderdale, is an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor for the Office of the Attorney General and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney in the 17th Judicial Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degree from The University of South Carolina and his law degree from Washington and Lee University. Davis fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Merrilee Ehrlich.

Peter Holden, 57, of Fort Lauderdale, has served as an Assistant State Attorney in the 17th Judicial Circuit since 1989. He received his bachelor’s degree from Nichols College and his law degree from Nova Law School. Holden fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Lisa M. Porter.

Polk County Court

Hope Pattey, 47, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit and fills the vacancy created by the promotion of Judge Gerald P. Hill II. A graduate of the University of South Florida, Pattey went on to receive her law degree from Florida State University College of Law. She is 47 years old.

Sarasota County Court

Scott appointed Dana Moss, 47, of Lakewood Ranch. She is a felony division chief for the 12th Circuit Public Defender’s Office. Moss previously served as a police officer. She received her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and her law degree from Florida Coastal Law School. Moss fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Judy Goldman.

Tallahassee Community College District Board of Trustees

Gov. Rick Scott reappointed Eugene Lamb, Jr. The 71-year-old, of Midway, is retired from working in the Tallahassee area as a teacher for 30 years and also served on the Gadsden County Commission for eight years. Lamb’s new term ends May 31, 2022. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Early Learning Coalition of Orange County

Scott appointed Linda Shaughnessy, 60, of Orlando, an accountant at St. James Cathedral School. She received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Loyola University. Shaughnessy succeeds Linda Gonzalez for a term ending April 30, 2021.

Honoring a ‘Champion of Service’

Sam Rogers, a Tallahassee-based, longtime community volunteer, was presented this week with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award during a Florida Cabinet meeting.

Bestowing Rogers with the honor were Gov. Scott and Volunteer Florida CEO David Mica, Jr. Volunteer Florida is the state’s service agency.

Tallahassee-based volunteer Sam Rogers is recognized with the Champion of Service Award.

Rogers has mentored two first-grade students every year for almost two decades, helping them hone their reading skills and introducing them to art and culture. He is credited with being instrumental in partnering Kate Sullivan Elementary School with Trinity Methodist Church.

“Sam is extremely deserving of the Champion of Service Award,” Mica said. “As a direct result of his mentorship, local students are succeeding in school, developing valuable life skills and becoming well-rounded individuals – ensuring a bright future for both Tallahassee and the State of Florida.”

Added Scott: “Sam’s longstanding commitment to his community inspires those around him and helps make our state the best place to live in the country.

Gator gigging time

Alligator hunting season is here again, through Nov. 1.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has issued more than 7,500 permits, including an additional 1,313 countywide permits, this year.

It’s Florida’s alligator hunting season once again.

The hunt is part of the commission’s program to control the population Florida’s official state reptile, now estimated at 1.3 million. The alligator was among the species on the endangered list when first issued in 1967. Its numbers had recovered to the point that Florida removed it from the list in 1987.

Last year’s hunt produced 6,261 carcasses averaging 8 feet, 3 inches in length.

The commission also operates a nuisance alligator program — you can call 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286) to contact a state-sanctioned trapper to capture gators that pose risks to people or pets.

Good news for Doctors Lake

Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, both of northeast Florida, this week announced money is ready to back essential water projects in Clay County.

On Wednesday, the two Republican lawmakers told residents that funding is on the way for a series of projects targeting water quality in Doctors Lake, a tributary of the nearby St. Johns River.

Funding is on the way for Doctors Lake, to help with water quality. (Image via News4Jax)

The money will be used to transition lakeside homeowners from septic to sewer systems, replace old septic tanks, and begin the Doctors Lake Enhanced Effluent Treatment Project, expected to eventually treat a minimum of 2 million gallons of water per day.

“We can work together to improve Doctors Lake, so Clay County residents may enjoy our precious natural resources for generations to come,” Cummings said.

Dr. Ann Shortelle, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, added: “These proposed projects focus efforts on Doctors Lake, which has experienced water quality concerns for decades … As always, we look to the science to guide us in making sound decisions about project opportunities.”

Greenberg Traurig’s ‘Best Lawyers’

The 2019 edition of “Best Lawyers in America” is out, and Greenberg Traurig has a lot to celebrate.

The firm had 133 of its attorneys make the cut and was named the top firm in four Sunshine State markets: Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tallahassee.

In addition to a “Best Lawyers” top pick for those seeking counsel in the capital, Greenberg Traurig was honored as a “Top Listed” firm in seven practice areas, including Government Relations — not only does the international firm routinely make the top-5 in Florida lobbying pay, but it’s among the top-quality outlets, too.

Greenberg Traurig was recognized for having several top-rated lawyers in Florida.

The good news didn’t stop there. Among the 133 Greenberg Traurig lawyers singled out by the publication for their quality work were a dozen who earned the top-flight “attorney of the year” distinction in their practice areas.

The honor roll: Cesar Alvarez, International Trade and Finance Law; Hilarie Bass, Litigation-Regulatory Enforcement (SEC, Telecom, Energy); Bridget Berry, Employment Law-Management; Mark Bideau, Litigation – Securities Litigation-Labor & Employment; Mark Bloom, Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights/Insolvency and Reorganization Law; Michael Cherniga, Health Care Law; Lucia Dougherty, Administrative/Regulatory Law; Glenn Goldstein, Litigation-Banking and Finance; Barbara Hall, Government Relations Practice; Gregory Herbert, Litigation-Intellectual Property; Richard McCrea Jr., Litigation-Labor and Employment; and David Peck, Health Care Law.

AOB abuse alert

A business coalition is continuing its public relations offensive against assignment-of-benefits abuse by launching an interactive guide warning consumers of these contracts’ pitfalls.

The Consumer Protection Coalition’s Tips to Avoid Contractor Fraud & Abuse website warns against “deceptive” tactics including high-pressure sales, contracts with blank spaces, and offers to rebate the deductible so the repairs are free.

Also, there are links detailing how to verify property damage and check contractor references and get a written contract, and warning against paying up front.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce helped to organize the coalition.

“Peak hurricane season is here – the time when most major storms hit and the threat of AOB abuse increases,” said coalition member Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property and Casualty Insurers Association of America. “To prevent this type of abuse from happening now and in the future, consumer awareness is critical.

LeadingAge Florida recognized

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) recognized LeadingAge Florida members for “heroic efforts to care for Florida seniors in the days following Hurricane Irma.”

LeadingAge received a Silver Power Award for “Project Lifeline: Caring for Seniors in the Aftermath of Irma.” The project chronicles nine LeadingAge Florida members that delivered food, water and other supplies to communities of seniors impacted by the hurricane.

Steve Bahmer, LeadingAge Florida president and CEO.

“Many times, during the past year, I have been asked how our members dealt with Hurricane Irma and its aftermath,” said Steve Bahmer, LeadingAge Florida president and CEO. “There are a number of ways to answer that question, but the word that always jumps to the front of my mind is ‘character.’”

“This award isn’t ours. It’s our members,” he added. “It’s a national testimonial to the values of our Association, and to the power and depth of our members’ mission to care for older adults.”

From providing food, water and ice, in some cases diverting their own resources to help others, to filling vans and buses with various supplies and delivering them to troubled communities, LeadingAge Florida members quickly helped in whatever way they could, regardless of the provider community in need or its location.

The Able Trust backs training

Easterseals Florida, which provides services for children and adults with disabilities and their families, received a $60,000 grant this week from The Able Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Floridians with disabilities find employment.

The money will be used to support Easterseals’ STRIVE program, short for Skills Training Results in Vocational Employment.

The Able Trust cuts a big check for vocational training.

At the Igoe-Amar Center in West Palm Beach, STRIVE participants will receive curriculum over the course of 12 weeks, consisting of 30 hours split between the classroom and an on-site “hotel simulation room.”

“Supporting the Easterseals Florida and programs like the STRIVE in Hospitality Program are vital to helping people with disabilities find successful employment,” said Dr. Susanne Homant, president and CEO of The Able Trust. “They not only help those who use the program, but also the surrounding communities by providing area businesses with quality employees.”

“As Easterseals approaches 100 years of changing the lives of children and adults with disabilities, we look to the future and how we can continue to grow services for the community,” added Sue Ventura, president and CEO of Easterseals Florida.

FSU launches student resilience tool

In an effort to help students adjust to the university, improve mental health and lower stress, Florida State University will launch the Student Resilience Project.

“Florida State University recognizes that some incoming students have experienced significant family or community stress,” said Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies. “Unmanaged stress responses can interfere with student success in college and cause long-term negative consequences.”

FSU Provost Sally McRorie.

The soft launch for the online trauma resilience tool was Aug. 1, but by this fall, the Institute for Family Violence Studies at the FSU College of Social Work expects to fully launch the training.

The training uses animated instructions and videos reminiscent of TED Talks, according to the university. Each module teaches resilience and coping skills students may need for there time away from home. The university will welcome some 6,000 freshmen this fall.

“FSU recognizes the need to provide more tools to respond to the increasing mental health needs of our students,” said Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “The project is open and frank about mental health topics our students may face and is intended to destigmatize and encourage seeking help.”

Seminole Sensation Week is back

An annual tradition tailored to promote student involvement at Florida State University begins this Wednesday, as the institution welcomes students back to campus for fall semester.

Known as Seminole Sensation Week, the university will host a weeklong series of events that help introduce students to an array of organizations and opportunities available outside of the classroom.

Seminole Sensation Week returns!

“Seminole Sensation Week is a campus tradition that creates moments for students to make connections and get involved at FSU,” said Lori Vaughn, interim director for Student Activities. “Becoming part of our campus community helps students succeed in their classes and beyond.”

New Student Convocation, the marquee event, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. There, widely respected nuclear physicist and FSU faculty member Mark Riley will deliver the convocation address.

As is tradition, the President’s Welcome, hosted each year by FSU President John Thrasher, will take place after the convocation. The seven-day schedule of events can be found here.

Island View Park completed

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Franklin County, and The Trust for Public Land this week announced the completion of Island View Park, providing “improved public access to the beautiful coastal resources of this region.”

Island View Park is a 7-acre tract in Franklin County, about 1 mile east of the city of Carrabelle, with almost 900 feet fronting St. George Sound. The park includes a boardwalk with viewing areas, extensive landscaping with native trees and plants, two long fishing piers, shoreline access for paddle craft, and a central plaza with an information kiosk.

Island View Park is now ready for visitors.

Funding for park amenities, along with 10 years of operation and maintenance funds for the county ($2.6 million), came from an agreement with British Petroleum to conduct restoration projects to address injuries resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to enhance the public’s access to surrounding natural resources and increase recreational opportunities.

Additional funding for the Park was also provided by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This project will enhance and increase the public’s use and enjoyment of the natural resources that were severely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred April 20, 2010.

Capitol Directions

Rick Scott rejects claims that job growth is predominately in low-wage sectors

In St. Augustine Friday, Gov. Rick Scott promoted the latest jobs numbers.

“The private sector,” said Scott, “has created 26,000 new jobs. We have added 211,000 jobs in the last 12 months … almost 1.6 million private sector jobs” in the last 7½ years.

Noting that unemployment is now 3.7 percent, Scott said  Florida’s job growth rate and labor force rate is “fastest in the nation.”

Scott added, in the media availability, that this is a “great month … we’re growing this state through growing our economy.”

Cissy Proctor, executive director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, echoed the Governor’s sentiments, lauding “his focus and his strategic investments in companies and diversification” that ensure a “competitive business environment.”

What is left unsaid in these jobs announcements is the types of jobs created.

As the Florida Times-Union noted recently, half of those jobs created pay less than $10 an hour. And, despite the jobs created, nearly half of Florida’s 67 counties lag below the employment levels they had before the recession a decade ago.

Three million Floridians are in poverty, with wages 13 percent below the national average, per the T-U. Meanwhile, cities across Florida see spiking rents.

We asked Scott about these criticisms, which seemingly cast a pall on the rosy picture the numbers create.

Scott noted that when he was elected, “there weren’t jobs that were helping any family,” given that the state had lost “842,000 jobs the four years before I got elected.”

“Now,” Scott said, “we are seeing job growth month after month after month. Our wages are going up faster than the national numbers. People are continuing to come to our state because they have the opportunity to live the dream of this country right here in Florida.”

“We have good paying jobs all across our state,” Scott added. “This state is growing really well.”

In terms of metropolitan job creation, Orlando leads with 53,000 new jobs in the past year, followed by Tampa with 31,000, and Miami with 27,000.

Rick Scott says conflict of interest claims regarding All Aboard Florida are ‘absurd’

Gov. Rick Scott‘s finances continue to be a focus this summer, as the Governor runs for Senate.

The latest revelations came from the Miami Herald this week, which reported that Scott, who killed Florida’s chance at federally funded high-speed rail early in his term, has investments in a credit fund run by the parent company of All Aboard Florida, which is running rail from Miami to Orlando and, eventually, to Tampa.

According to the Herald’s report, Scott is banking from this fund: profits exceeded $150,000 last year alone.

Moreover, some of Scott’s administration members helped with the plan, which raises questions for the Herald even as Scott’s Senate campaign insisted the investment is in an “unrelated debt financing fund,” an answer that didn’t exactly address what appears to be another in a series of conflicts of interest.

In St. Augustine Friday, we asked Scott to address the latest in a series of controversies. Scott pushed back.

“First of all,” Scott said, “that’s absurd.”

Scott noted that when he was elected in 2010, he “put his assets in a blind trust so that I didn’t have any conflicts.”

“I wanted to put myself in a position where I didn’t know what I had investments in. I didn’t make investments. I didn’t buy assets, I didn’t sell assets. Most people who get elected don’t do that,” Scott said, but he “did it because [he] didn’t want to have a conflict.”

“I don’t know what’s in those investments,” Scott said before pivoting to “high-speed rail.”

“It’s horrible for our state the way it was set up. It was going to cost billions of dollars. California took the money, Connecticut took the money, and look what it’s done,” Scott urged.

“They’re behind budget, there [are] delays. It cost more than they thought. Those projects are not getting done. And their state economies [are] in shambles,” Scott said, contrasting those states to Florida.

“We’ve paid off $10.5 billion in debt. We’ve cut taxes by $10 billion a year. Record funding for the environment … for transportation … for education,” Scott added.

“We’ve been able to do the right thing for our state,” Scott added.

We asked Scott’s campaign to elaborate on the statement provided to the Miami Herald on Thursday. Spokeswoman Lauren Schenone offered the following denunciation of the paper’s claims:

“It is completely untrue that the Governor or First Lady has any investment in All Aboard Florida. Both the Governor’s and the First Lady’s investments are in an unrelated debt-financing fund. As such, the success or failure of All Aboard Florida or any rail project within the State of Florida will have no effect on this investment.”

On Russian election interference claims, Rick Scott wants Bill Nelson to ‘come clean’

An ongoing narrative this election season is Sen. Bill Nelson‘s claims that Russians are interfering in Florida elections.

Nelson, at varying points, has claimed that “Russians are in the records” of local supervisors of elections, and that they are “continuing” with tactics employed in 2016.

Nelson’s likely opponent in the Senate general election, Gov. Rick Scott, and his administration have repeatedly questioned the factual basis for those assertions, with Nelson’s silence nettling them.

On Thursday, a joint letter from Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux, President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, to Nelson demanded that he clarify his “deeply troubling” comments.

Despite contacting the FBI, Homeland Security, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and other state and federal agencies, the state came up with no “actionable intelligence.” Nelson, said Detzner and Lux, has a “responsibility” to share information with the state.

On Friday in St. Augustine, Scott continued to beat the drum for Nelson to break a functional silence on his thus far unsupported claims.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Scott thundered. “Either he has completely made this up, just completely made it up, or he’s released classified information. One of those two things has happened.”

“Here’s what he said: The Russians have hacked our system. The Russians are free to roam around our election system right now. Then when he was pressed,” Scott added, “he said ‘Oh, it’s classified information. I got my information from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.'”

“We asked them,” Scott continued, “and they didn’t confirm anything he said.”

“Then,” Scott added, “he blamed it on the administration, [saying] they’re not releasing information. We asked Homeland Security, the FBI; they never confirmed it.”

“Then he says he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore,” Scott continued, “so here’s where we are.”

“We put the money in to make sure we have a secure system. We’ve added cybersecurity experts, we’ve gotten grant funding for our supervisors of elections,” Scott said.

“He needs to come clean,” Scott said. “Did they release classified information? And how did he have access to it? He doesn’t have the right to it, he’s not on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Or did he just completely make it up?”

We asked Scott if he had spoken to Sen. Marco Rubio about this, but he had no response. We are reaching out to Rubio’s office for further insight.

Jacksonville Bold for 8.17.18 — Sizzle, and steak

Wishful thinking predicates much of election season. Aspirational ads for Democrats; appeals targeting nonexistent issues (hello, “sanctuary cities”) for Republicans.

Ultimately, these moves — whether pulled by a winning or losing campaign — are strategic. How a Republican is to eliminate sanctuary cities or how a Democrat is by force of will to create Medicare for All or legalize cannabis is left to the voters’ imaginations.

From the embryonic, conceptual phases of campaigns, where voters can convince themselves that radical shifts can happen, thinking evolves eventually. Pretenders fall off. People start thinking strategically about their vote. And, in the cases of early front-runners, we often see how shallow that support is once the game changes.

As you will see below, there’s not a lot of drama in certain races. We have a good sense of who will win area Congressional primaries. Less of a good sense as to who will win a couple of state House races.

As is the case every year, none of this is too surprising. Polls are transparent. Campaign finance is easy enough to figure out. And most reading this can read candidates and their chances pretty well also.

Levine in Jax

Jacksonville was the fourth and final stop on Philip Levine‘s barnstorming tour of local early voting locations Monday.

Philip Levine says he’s “everywhere” right now, and will be back before the primary vote.

This tour happens as tensions have boiled over between Levine and another Democratic contender, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene.

As the two work to drive up each other’s negatives, polls show that U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham holds an advantage.

An internal poll released last week by Levine has him behind by four points. A Graham poll shows her up on Levine by 16 points. Greene was behind the top two in both cases.

Levine was not especially dismayed by the turn the campaign has taken.

“The bottom line is this,” Levine said. “I think the people deserve to know what someone’s track record is” vis a vis Trump.

Levine estimated having been “on television … a hundred, two hundred times … during the 2016 election, warning America that this guy would be a terrible president.”

“I think that when someone pretends [he’s] fighting them while being at his country club by the ocean — we call it Kremlin-by-the-Sea — and passing the Grey Poupon across the table and thinks that’s fighting Donald Trump,” Levine added, “the people have a right to know.”

“You don’t want Donald Trump’s friend — you want who Donald Trump fears,” Levine said. “The people of Florida should understand who is who, and that’s why we’re doing it.”

Curry endorses DeSantis

According to WJCT, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis align on prominent issues — being tough on crime and investing in youth — and they both come from similar working-class backgrounds and want others to have the same opportunities.

‘Brothers of a different mother’: Lenny Curry calls Ron DeSantis ‘ the right guy right now.’

“Ron’s a good conservative,” Curry told reporters. “I’ve been about disrupting the status quo locally, and I think that that’s what’s got to happen everywhere, and Ron’s going to disrupt the status quo as the governor of the state of Florida and I’m supporting him, voting for him and encouraging folks to get out and vote in the primary.”

DeSantis called Curry “innovative.”

“What he’s done here is showing that you got to be bold, you just got to keep pushing,” he said. “And that’s obviously what I would want to do as governor.”

Tale of two districts

For nearly three decades, two congressional districts split the city of Jacksonville.

One of them, what is now Florida’s 4th Congressional District, was represented for years by reliable — and by today’s standard, moderate — Republicans Tillie Fowler and Ander Crenshaw.

Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown represented Jacksonville together for 16 years.

The other district, currently the 5th Congressional District, was Democrat Corrine Brown‘s sinecure. The maps on that district changed periodically, seemingly always under legal challenge, a process that ended in 2016 with Brown’s district being moved from its south/southwest jog toward the Orlando area to a straight east-west configuration.

Jacksonville, as of yet, doesn’t have the population to house two districts within Duval County — and given the cartographical challenges of minority access districts, that may not be the case after the next apportionment either.

However, a look at book closing data for CD 4 and CD 5 reveals two districts that ultimately will be decided in primary elections, proving that some things really don’t change in the 904.

Read more here.

Brown going down

If the election in Florida’s 5th Congressional District were today, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson would cruise to victory, according to a St. Pete Polls survey of the race released Monday.

Nancy Pelosi was one of just many big-name endorsers for Al Lawson this cycle.

A survey of 445 likely Democratic primary voters shows Lawson with 50 percent of the vote, with opponent Alvin Brown at 28 percent. The balance of voters are undecided. The margin of error is 4.6 percent.

Lawson has strong leads of 15 percent and up among all surveyed demographics with appreciable data: whites and blacks, men and women, and every age cohort.

Among those who already voted, Lawson is up 52-42; among those yet to vote, Lawson’s lead balloons to 49-26.

Despite the negative messaging in this race in recent weeks against Lawson, the incumbent has not seen his favorable ratings damaged. Fifty-four percent of Democrats in the district regard him favorably, giving him a +36 rating (Brown, with 36 percent of Democrats regarding him favorably, is at +16).

The winner of this race will face Republican Virginia Fuller, a first-time candidate without an appreciable campaign infrastructure.

Notable: the Florida Times-Union also endorsed Lawson this week, another sign this is over.

Last dance for Waltz foes

A new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls shows Republican Michael Waltz pulling ahead of primary opponents John Ward and Fred Costello in the race to succeed DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Mike Waltz is seen here on Fox News demonstrating a ‘go bag,’ suitable for escaping terrorist attacks.

The new poll commissioned for Florida Politics asked likely primary voters who they would support if the election were today. Waltz, a St. Augustine Army veteran, would take 40 percent of the vote, results show. Ward, a Palm Coast Navy veteran, would win 21 percent, while former Ormond Beach state Rep. Costello would get 16 percent. Another 23 percent of those polled remain undecided.

The poll, taken Aug. 10, shows an even more pronounced lead for Waltz among voters who already cast their ballot in the race. Waltz won support from 41 percent of those polled. Interestingly, Costello outperformed Ward among those eager voters, winning 22 percent to Ward’s 21 percent.

More than 23 percent of those surveyed already voted in the Republican primary.

The poll shows significant movement from a survey by St. Pete Polls conducted July 18. Then, the three Republicans appeared to be in a dead heat, with Costello just over 21 percent, Ward just under 21 percent and Waltz at 20.

HD 14, 15 still in doubt

Both the Democratic primary in House District 14 and the Republican race in HD 15 offer a soupçon of drama as early voting continues.

In HD 14’s Democratic two-way, challenger Paula Wright finally has cash on hand lead over incumbent Kim Daniels.

Paula Wright’s game-ready, but her opponent specializes in brushback pitches.

Wright has continued to raise money. Between July 28 and Aug. 3, the last dates for which campaign finance numbers are available, Wright raised $7,675, with cash from Realtors, AFSCME, and a sheet metal local union contributing.

Wright has just over $14,000 on hand (more than Daniels), and according to her campaign finance report, will spend a lot of that money on canvassers (the majority of the nearly $2,800 spent between July 27 and Aug. 3 went for such purposes).

Wright has some advantages. A current chair of the Duval County School Board, she is no political neophyte. And she’s backed by Democratic elected officials, including Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Tracie Davis, and Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Daniels, who has had her share of scandals and apostasies from Democratic orthodoxy, is seen as beatable by those close to Wright.

In HD 15, meanwhile, the Republican side of the ledger is where the action is, with lobbyist Wyman Duggan trying to close the deal against primary opponents Joseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

Duggan has spent more than $85,000 on television in July. He continues to raise money ($10,000 between July 27 and Aug. 3, including donations from pharmaceutical and Realtor trade group political committees) and has roughly $75,000 between hard money and committee money as he heads into the stretch run.

It gives him more cash on hand than Zeigler (~$28K) and Hogan (~$28K) combined.

Public polling of this race has yet to surface. However, a recent mailer from Duggan’s political committee slammed Hogan for his support for former Jacksonville Mayor Brown in the 2015 race against current Republican incumbent Curry.

Hogan “stands with anti-Trump progressives,” the mailer charges, as Hogan said Jacksonville was “better off” with Brown.

The Duggan bet seems to be that district voters need reminding of that particular deviation from doctrine.

October surprise

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a dispute about whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint a Northeast Florida circuit judge.

David Trotti’s position is that he should ‘win’ the seat unopposed.

Justices issued an order Thursday accepting the case and scheduled arguments Oct. 2. But the order showed a divided court, with Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga backing the decision to take up the case and Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson opposed.

The case stems from the upcoming retirement of Judge Robert Foster in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties. Foster was expected to leave office Jan. 7, 2019, which would be the end of his term, because of mandatory retirement age.

But on April 2, Foster sent a letter to Scott making the retirement effective Dec. 31, four business days ahead of schedule.

The Scott administration argues — and the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed — that the governor’s acceptance of a judicial resignation before the start of an election-qualifying period creates a vacancy that should be filled by appointment, rather than election.

If Foster retired Jan. 7, the post would be filled by election. Jacksonville lawyer David Trotti filed the legal challenge arguing that the opening should be filled in this year’s elections. Trotti tried this spring to qualify to run for the judicial spot but was denied. The Supreme Court arguments will come about a month before the Nov. 6 general election but after ballots are printed.

Hogan on blast

Early voting is allowed on college campuses — but Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan isn’t having it at the University of North Florida.

(Image via Jax Daily Record)

Via Folio Weekly, Megan Newsome — a UNF student who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit intended to secure that access for college students — is not happy.

“Students have been fighting for this change for years, and now that the option is finally on the table, officials in Alachua and Hillsborough counties have already taken steps to make early voting on UF and USF campuses a reality. Leon County’s Supervisor of Elections has remained open to the possibility, too. But Hogan will not even “entertain the option” because it would be “just too darn difficult,” Newsome writes.

“The closest early voting location to UNF’s campus is over 3 miles away,” Newsome notes.

No, thank you

DeSantis may want Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to be his Lieutenant Governor.

But it’s not happening, Williams told WJXT this week.

Mike Williams slams the door on Lieutenant Governor talk.

Williams will not accept the offer, “slamming the door” on the bid.

“As long as the people of Jacksonville want me to serve them, I will honor that trust,” Williams said.

Williams, a candidate for re-election in 2019, faces nominal competition.

Between his campaign and committee accounts, Williams raised just $1,450 in July. He is left with roughly $440,000 on hand.

Williams is not in any appreciable danger at the ballot box. His sole opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, has $700 on hand.

Mayfield seeks audit of JEA nuclear costs

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield is calling the Florida Legislature’s auditing and accountability office to look into JEA involvement an expensive nuclear power project — blasting it as an “alarming example” of “potential mismanagement” at the city-owned utility.

Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union reports that JEA’s involvement in the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project served as a backdrop for a contentious debate at City Hall over the privatization of JEA.

Debbie Mayfield is taking a hard look at JEA nuclear costs.

JEA’s share of Vogtle — as much as $4 billion over 20 years — is raising alarm bells with both city officials and credit-rating analysts.

While JEA is telling Plant Vogtle co-owners to cancel the project, Monroe noted that utility officials are “actively searching for ways to get out of the contract it has with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, one of the co-owners.”

Mayfield represents Senate District 17, which covers Brevard and Indian River counties — about 150 miles south of Jacksonville. The Mayfield Republican is requesting the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability Office to complete a full examination of JEA’s contract with MEAG. She also wants a report submitted to the House and Senate leadership by Feb. 1.

“Citizens from the community have expressed concern over recent events and published reports that suggest serious issues surrounding the spending and operation decisions of the JEA,” Mayfield wrote to auditors this week.

JEA interim CEO Aaron Zahn told reporters he welcomed the review but disagreed that the decision to invest in Vogtle was evidence of mismanagement.

“JEA has just been taken for a ride,” Zahn said.

Khan ready to build

Jaguars owner Shad Khan, according to the Jacksonville Daily Record, is prepared to get moving on big projects.

The paper writes: “The plan is to commence construction on a parking structure, entertainment complex, hotel, office tower and residential building at the same time so that most of the construction occurs during the NFL offseason.”

“Based on what we talked about today, I’d say any deal would need to be in place by the end of the year to hit that mark,” said Jags President Mark Lamping.

Ready to build: Shad Khan’s vision includes a hotel on the former Shipyards property.

“Shad is anxious to get moving on these projects because he’s a big believer in momentum,” Lamping said. “It’s one of the hardest things to get, it’s one of the easiest things to lose.”

Lamping added that movement on development at the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park wouldn’t happen until the Hart Bridge offramps go down.

Should any city incentives be required, Khan is well-positioned as both Curry’s most prominent supporter and a donor in most Council races already.

Social Grounds gets props

At this week’s Cabinet meeting, Gov. Rick Scott recognized Jacksonville’s veteran-owned Social Grounds Coffee Company with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award.

Scott said, “I’m proud to recognize Social Grounds Coffee Company with the Business Ambassador Award today. Florida is the most veteran-friendly state in the nation, and it’s great to see veteran-owned companies succeed in Florida.”

Gov. Rick Scott recognizes Jacksonville’s veteran-owned Social Grounds Coffee Company with Business Ambassador Award.

Social Grounds Owner and Marine Corps veteran Jason Kelloway said, “I am truly honored to receive the Business Ambassador Award from Governor Scott on behalf of the entire team at Social Grounds. We love our city and will continue to use our coffee to help change lives and make a difference in our community.”

In July, the release from Scott’s office notes, the Governor visited Kuwait and took coffee from Social Grounds to serve to the troops.

Ramsey, Fowler stay home as Jags visit Minnesota

The Jaguars are in Minnesota practicing with the Vikings before getting together in the second preseason game on Saturday. They are there minus two players.

Both cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. are back in Jacksonville serving a one-week suspension. Fowler’s banishment came after two altercations with teammates, the most heated between the former Florida Gator and fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

Ramsey, the All-Pro from Florida State, stuck up for his one-time rival by going after a reporter who was recording Fowler’s altercation with Ngakoue. After Philip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union reported on the incident, Ramsey tweeted, among other things “if y’all want war, we got sum for y’all.”

Jalen Ramsey staying home as Jaguars visit Minnesota.

With team management, let alone the media relations department, working to generate positive coverage of a young, up-and-coming team, good relations with the local media is a priority. Ramsey’s actions, as well as Fowler’s, were determined to be “a violation of team rules,” prompting the suspensions.

Ramsey said his coaches had urged him to speak his mind. He recalled a recent meeting where coaches said “Yo, Jalen, we need you to say this,” and “come Thursday, we need you to say this on the media.”

This is probably true, but it is also likely the coaches never urged him to attack the media on Twitter. On the other hand, coaches can smile broadly when Ramsey’s incessant trash talking on the field leads opponents to take silly penalties.

The altercation last year with Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, which led to Green body slamming Ramsey on the field, is a prime example.

When Ramsey and Fowler return to practice Monday, hopefully, the messages will have been delivered.

Alan Grayson, Darren Soto, Wayne Liebnitzky spread on ICE in ‘Political Salsa’ CD 9 debate

When asked Thursday night about what they want to do with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the three candidates for Florida’s 9th Congressional District had a wide range of opinions.

Either keep it as is, reform it, or throw it out.

Speaking at one of four debates at the packed Political Salsa hobnob in Orlando, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky defended the embattled federal immigration enforcement agency, its work and officers as necessary and law enforcement doing the best they could with what they have.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto talked about law changes necessary to rein in excesses while protecting important work ICE does. And Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson blasted ICE as a federal agency that “has lost its way.”

“ICE deserves to abolished,” Grayson said. “ICE has become what amounts to an agency of viciousness. I never expected any time in my life to see a federal agency caging children, anywhere in the world. And therefore, ICE has lost its way. We should not have federal agents on the federal payroll, paid by the taxpayers, abusing and brutalizing people because they don’t happen to be Americans. That has to change.”

“I believe the solution is to reform ICE,” said Soto. “The reason that ICE is the way it is is that there aren’t laws that are preventing them from doing the things that they do. That’s why we need a Democratic majority in back in Congress, to make family separation illegal, to make zero-tolerance illegal.

“Keep in mind, they also regulate and protect people who are involved in human sex trafficking and other aspects that are important, that we do support. We do need a culture change there, from the top down,” Soto said. “We also need to make sure they are not going into churches, and they are not going after people who are low priorities.”

“No, I will not vote to abolish ICE,” Liebnitzky said. Later he defended ICE agents as law enforcement officers just following the laws, and getting a bad rap, saying, “They’re doing what they’re told to do, by Congress,” adding that President Donald Trump has asked Congress “over and over to do something, and yet they do nothing.”

Their sparring over ICE was one of the few moments of genuine disagreement in debates between Orange County congressional, mayoral, and sheriff’s candidates. The discussions took place during an event where scores of candidates — including Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — worked the floors at Acacia, a gathering point for the area’s Puerto Rican community.

The debates did not bring any of the go-for-the-throat moments seen at earlier debates, particularly between Soto and Grayson, and between Orange County mayoral candidates Sheriff Jerry Demings, Commissioner Pete Clarke, and businessman Rob Panepinto.

Nor were there many moments of new revelation, 11 days before the Aug. 28 elections.

Panepinto had one of the few notable moments to shine when the mayoral candidates answered questions on specifics about what they would do to address Orange County’s affordable housing crisis.

Panepinto declared the county no longer can wait for (or count on) state help, then laid out details of his $20 million-a-year, seven-point plan for the county to promote affordable housing. Demings and Clarke mostly called on the state to do its job, giving generalized answers about looking for possible zoning and permit-processing reforms.

“We’ve been looking to Tallahassee for a long time to solve this problem,” Panepinto said. “Yes, they should fund the Sadowski [Affordable Housing Trust] Fund. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. I’ll continue to go up there and fight for it. But I think we owe it to our people to solve the problem here locally.”

Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez, both running for Orange County Sheriff, mostly agreed on many items ranging from their opposition to the sheriff’s office ever actively enforcing federal immigration law, to their commitments to reduce violence against and by law enforcement officers. But they split squarely on their views of red-light cameras.

“I would be in favor of it, as long as the system is run properly and there are many, many checks and balances, and the person has the opportunity to go before a hearing officer and in front of traffic court to fight a red light traffic ticket, which we do in the city of Orlando,” Mina said.

“Very simple: no! I do not support them,” Lopez offered. “I don’t think it works. I think it creates problems,” he said citing studies indicating they increase rear-end traffic accidents.

“It’s a cash cow, that’s all it is,” he added.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Miller shared the debate dais with progressive Democratic challenger Chardo Richardson, as incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Republican candidates Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois skipped the event, even though it was held in their district.

Miller and Richardson stood on far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Miller argued for capitalism, low taxes, and freeing up businesses; Richardson, mounting a left-wing (albeit long-shot) Aug. 28 Democratic primary challenge to Murphy, pressed his Democratic socialist platform, including universal Medicare and raising the minimum wage “to a living wage.”

The pair were far enough apart that they offered grace and respect to one another, Richardson expressing appreciation for Miller’s service in Tallahassee, and Miller for Richardson’s service in the U.S. Marines, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scott made a late, brief appearance, mostly meeting with a few people in crowded hallways.

The Governor left shortly after being confronted in a corridor by Central Florida progressive political activist and former congressional candidate Susannah Randolph. He was ushered toward the stairwell while she tried to demand an answer on one of her questions.

On the other hand, Scott’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. (and Orlando resident) Bill Nelson, was a no-show.

Levine and Gillum worked the floor of the main room, filled with hundreds of people and scores of candidates for county, state, and federal races packed the auditorium.

Political Salsa was sponsored primarily by the Suarez Group of Cos. and the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Florida, drawing a sizable Hispanic attendance.

The Soto-Grayson-Liebnitzky debate stayed civil, a dramatic departure from previous CD 9 debates where Soto and Grayson trashed each other’s records and called each other names, all but drawing actual blood. The closest to personal attacks came when Liebnitzky chided the two Democrats for talking so much about their records.

They were coming off sounding like their only concerns were themselves, not the district and its residents, he said.

Neither Soto nor Grayson took his bait.

Republican Governors Association starts spending spree in Florida

The GOP has held the Governor’s Mansion since the election of Jeb Bush in 1998, and the Republican Governors Association is spending big bucks to keep it that way.

According to newly filed campaign finance reports, electioneering communications organization Florida Facts received a $2.45 million cash infusion from the Republican Governors Association on Aug. 2, and it quickly put the money to work with a $2.12 million media buy through California-based Target Enterprises and another $225,000 in spending for “professional services,” likely media production, through that firm and Maryland-based OnMessage, Inc.

OnMessage has been the preferred media consulting shop for term-limited Gov. Rick Scott since he burst onto the political scene in 2010. In his two gubernatorial campaigns, Scott’s campaign and committee accounts paid the Annapolis firm more than $14.3 million.

Florida Facts, which shares an address with the HQ of the Republican Governors Association, finished the reporting period with just under $100,000 in the bank.

There are currently 33 Republican governors, including Scott, in office nationwide, and 26 of those Republican-held seats will be on the ballot in 2018. In its quest to shore up candidates ahead of a possible “blue wave,” the RGA has reeled in record-breaking fundraising hauls, including $113 million so far in the 2018 cycle.

In Florida, the winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be the beneficiary of the Republican Governors Association’s spending.

The eventual Republican nominee will go up against one of five Democrats running for the job, with former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine currently atop the polls heading into the final leg of the nominating contest.

The general election is Nov. 6.

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